The Earmark Disclosure Hall of Shame
Our earmark data-collection project has been a smashing success, and our intrepid earmark hunters have put over 34,000 earmark requests into the database.
Less than 60 members of Congress and senators remain, but the going is getting tough. Why? Because some disclosures were in the worst possible format: scanned PDFs. It’s a huge chore to make any use of these.
Now, this is the first year Congress has actually required disclosure of earmark requests, and WashingtonWatch.com and our users are the first to try to make real use of them, but our friends in Congress also need to learn about the importance of disclosure.
So here’s the message: Don’t slow-walk transparency! Put information out there, put it out in machine-readable formats, and put it out using standard data specifications (to the extent they exist).
To help encourage transparency, we’ve made a list of representatives remaining on our “wanted” list who did the worst job with their earmark disclosures. If they conformed to the letter of the rules, they sure didn’t conform to the spirit. We fully expect these members of Congress and Senators to be transparency leaders from here on out.
The Big Winners: The Opaque Appropriators
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees required disclosure of earmarks. But—believe it or not—a few appropriators did the least they could to actually make their requests transparent. They are:
Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS): Cochran is no slouch in the appropriations world. He’s the ranking Republican member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. It’s likely that he had a hand in making the policy about earmark disclosure in the Senate (and good for him on that). But when it came to disclosing his earmarks, he gave the public a scanned image of his list of earmarks—in small type, no less. This is very difficult to use.
Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA): Kingston is an appropriator too: the ranking Republican member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies. And he’s a member of the Subcommittee on Defense. The public wants to see his earmark requests—and they can, but they have to slog through scanned images of his requests one by one. Not good enough.
Tom Latham is the Republican representative of Iowa’s fourth congressional district, and an appropriator. “Through his work on the Committee,” he says on his Web site, “Latham has provided significant support for Iowa’s homeland security first-responders, law enforcement, the Iowa National Guard, transportation projects, agriculture, environmental and public education initiatives, health care, community, economic and small business development.” Well we’d like to be able to see that! Instead, Latham presents us with scanned images of his request lists.
Finally, there’s Rodney Alexander (R-LA). Nice guy, no doubt. But his earmark disclosure is not nice at all – another scanned PDF.
We want Senator Cochran and Representatives Kingston, Latham, and Alexander—as well as all their colleagues listed below—to make good on earmark transparency. They can plug their earmarks into our database, deliver us the data in bulk using the appropriate format, or publish their requests in a format that’s easier for our earmark hunters to translate (like html). We’ll report back on what happens, of course.
And now the remaining members of the Earmark Transparency Hall of Shame.
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
Barton, Joe (R-TX)
Burgess, Michael (R-TX)
Holden, Tim (D-PA)
Lewis, John (D-GA)
Miller, Brad (D-NC)
Pascrell Jr., Bill (D-NJ)
Schwartz, Allyson (D-PA)
Smith, Chris (R-NJ)
Sutton, Betty (D-OH)
Tsongas, Niki (D-MA)
Senator Bingaman, Jeff (D-NM)
Senator Hatch, Orrin (R-UT)
Senator Snowe, Olympia (R-ME)
Senator Stabenow, Debbie (D-MI)
Senator Udall, Tom (D-NM)
Senator Warner, Mark (D-VA)
Senator Webb, Jim (D-VA)
Senator Wicker, Roger (R-MS)
Honorable mention: Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) deserves a little bit of shame. His disclosure page is in html, meaning that it’s kind of usable, but the content is all smashed together and none of the detail required by Senate rules is there.
(By the way, we think it’s just a coincidence that the four people featured as “Opaque Appropriators” are Republicans. Democrats have their share of weak disclosures, and—who knows—maybe our earmark hunters OCRed many Democrats’ scanned PDFs. We’re just trying to get the data and follow it wherever it leads—so there can be less partisanship rather than more . . . .)